Friday, May 14, 2010

Tactical Safety: Glimmers of Training

“The fire service’s weekly safety column”

By: Ray McCormack

Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.

Glimmers of Training

Everyone says: “we need to train;” “we need to train every day;” “we do not train enough;” “training is the key to better performance;” “training is the key to survival;” and “training keeps us safe.” What is reality when it comes to fire training? Is it frequency, relevancy, or outcome? Much like the best of intensions in life, training sometimes gets relegated to the back of the to-do list. We must not get so hung up on just the idea of training, the formal set up of training, and the check-mark mentality of completion that we miss the value in glimmers of training.

Training at the company level is the most frequent type of training firefighters participate in; and hopefully the most relevant; training that is local and specific to the needs of the company and the demands of the response area. My three rules for company training are that it be: relevant, realistic and repetitive. There are many time hooks pulling us in various directions in the fire service, and we want to be good at our ever expanding job; however, there is one discipline we must shine in, fire duty.

To assist us in making our training more enjoyable, memorable and marketable to our people, we must first be relevant. Training that seems far-flung and is hard to stamp with relevance will automatically have a learning gate placed in front of it that firefighters must jump over or pass through in order to comprehend it; and that of course hinders understanding and program buy in.

Realistic training does not have to be the real thing, but we have to attempt to come close. We must not be so quick to jump into realism without first knowing if our people are up to the task. When we practice stretching and flaking-out a hoseline in smoke, how do we do? It will be difficult to assess due to lack of supervisory vision until the smoke has lifted. You should not expect good result unless you have gone over what the ideal actually looks like, and how the participants would arrive at that level without some smoke free drills first.

Repetitive drills should not be carbon-copies of a same drill. They should cover the same elements but should be varied as to either add a new element, a new location, or an increased level of difficulty. We should work on a core of drills that revolve around what we do the majority of times. Once we get these foundational skills up to par, then branching can occur. Many times it is the fundamental skill that corrupts our operations causing fireground problems and injury.

If you are positioned to provide training, you must find a way to increase interest in your subject matter and your delivery. It is not necessary to organize extensive drills that last a long time. This is probably the biggest killer of good information ‘pass-along.’ We must learn the correct way to approach training. Sometimes the best training occurs through glimmers. Training using short, yet relevant examples to sustain and support the main focus of the learned or polished skill is often the best received and remembered effort.

Next Tactical Safety – Equal Opportunity for Life


  1. Ray,
    I can't agree more. A 10 or 15 minute "quick" on the main floor after a run or "drill" during an inspection on a pertinent topic goes far for the troops. I have been using that technique for sometime with great results.

  2. Ray, I can't agree more. I'm at a busy house, so we always get a rookie from the academy. This makes all my people keep up on the basics(which is where most departments fail). From there we expand on them making them more complicated. I try and have at least two drills a day. On every fireground people make mistakes. Take a mental note of them and incorporate them into your next drill.